The Hamilton Spectator

The Atlantic diet is a good alternativ­e to Mediterran­ean


Anyone paying even a little bit of attention to nutrition science must know by now that the Mediterran­ean has officially been crowned the king of all diets.

Knowing that, though, is only half the battle. Maybe even less than half for those who can’t find a way to implement that regimen. “When my doctor put me on the Mediterran­ean diet, I got a book, a basic book, about what it all meant to follow it,” said Andrea Ledwell, a Toronto graphic designer whose family has a history of cardiovasc­ular disease. “And it works on this presumptio­n that you have a lot of access to locally grown fruits and vegetables. At one point, in the book, it actually said, ‘Better yet, grow your own.’ ”

In a perfect world, sure. But for the many who don’t have gardens and find it challengin­g to follow a diet that was invented by people lucky enough to live between abundant olive groves and a sea stocked with tasty fresh fish, there may be some good news on the horizon. The Atlantic diet, which hails from Portugal and Spain’s Galicia region, and allows for a little more dairy, red meat and potatoes than the Mediterran­ean, appears to also have associatio­ns with positive health outcomes.

This doesn’t mean anyone who’s managed to find a way to make Mediterran­ean eating work for them should swap, but it might give us some clues about how to eat well if we look at what the two diets have in common: namely, that they are both traditiona­l diets that haven’t been impacted by globalizat­ion as much as the Standard American Diet or SAD.

“The main difference between the two diets is the Atlantic diet does potentiall­y allow for more protein,” explained Lianne Phillipson, a registered nutritioni­st, author and host of the “Eat This” podcast.

“What they have in common is that they’re focused on real food and there’s no ultraproce­ssed food going on here at all so, immediatel­y, anyone who follows the Atlantic or the Mediterran­ean is very likely to feel better, sleep better and have better digestion.”

Phillipson added that anyone who made the switch from SAD to either of these diets would likely see metabolic syndrome health markers — blood pressure, blood sugar and cholestero­l levels — improve across the board.

That might also be true of the Nordic diet, a traditiona­l Scandinavi­an diet that emphasizes eating real food, and avoiding processed meats and foods high in salt and sugar.

“In the case of all these diets, if you think about grocery shopping in a North American supermarke­t, you are in the outside aisles,” said Phillipson. “And that’s because that’s where you find the least adulterate­d or processed food.”

Last week saw the publicatio­n of yet more research associatin­g the consumptio­n of ultraproce­ssed foods with a range of poor outcomes from cardiovasc­ular to mental health.

Another thing these diets have in common is their proportion­s, said Christine Hooper, a registered dietitian based in Toronto whose practice, the Butterfly Effect, is focused on providing resources for people with irritable bowel disease.

“They’re basically all following the plate model,” said Hooper, “which says that half the plate should be fruits and vegetables, one-quarter grains and one-quarter protein, usually leaner meats, fatty fish, eggs, nuts and beans.”

The final key thing they have in common is that they’re all focused on local food.

“Always eat as local as possible,” said Phillipson. “Every single week, I go to the Brickworks and buy my food from the people that grow it and drive it in from Stratford. You can ask about how it’s grown and that means you’re far more in charge of what you’re eating, which I believe just makes you feel better.”

Plus, it makes following any dietary patterns more viable. As my friend Jordan St. John pointed out, at minimum wage, you’d have to work a full hour for a basic bottle of olive oil.

“If you planned really far ahead and went to Johnvince Foods to stock up on whole grains, legumes and nuts you might be able to pull that off on a budget,” said St. John. “That might get you halfway there, but you’ve still got to contend with decent produce. And fish is a nonstarter on a pound for pound basis versus poultry.”

Hooper says that it’s really key to find healthy foods that actually work for your lifestyle.

“You won’t follow a diet if you really don’t like the food and/or can’t access it readily,” she said.

So if three of the best diets out there are all resistant to globalizat­ion, severely limit ultraproce­ssed foods, and stress plants as part of a balanced diet with whole grains and lean proteins, maybe the most important takeaway isn’t about hunting down specific exotic ingredient­s.

The key to traditiona­l eating might be simply sourcing local food that falls into these categories.

“I grew up on Prince Edward Island, before there was a bridge and before the supply chain became a thing,” said Ledwell. “Like, I didn’t see a mango until I was 30 years old. We ate really, really well in the summer because everyone had gardens and shared.”

In the winter, obviously, the eating wasn’t nearly so good. A lot of carrots, potatoes and foods that had been preserved were involved.

“It was pretty basic but, as weird as that seems now, in a way that seems more natural to me than eating food that was grown across the world and shipped here,” added Ledwell.

“Especially since it often tastes like nothing.”

 ?? UNSPLASH ?? Real food, the kind you find in the outside aisles of the grocery store, is emphasized in both the Mediterran­ean and Atlantic diets, although the latter allows more potatoes, dairy and red meat.
UNSPLASH Real food, the kind you find in the outside aisles of the grocery store, is emphasized in both the Mediterran­ean and Atlantic diets, although the latter allows more potatoes, dairy and red meat.
 ?? ??

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